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23 April 2016, St George’s Day
A PHILIPPIC IN TWO PARTS AGAINST THE EUROPEAN UNION
“God for Harry! England and Saint George!”
This clarion call is line 31, scene 1, act 3 of the play Henry V (1599) by William Shakespeare (1564-1616), who died on St George’s Day 400 years ago today.
Antigone1984 resumes publication with a text on the UK referendum scheduled for 23 June 2016 on British membership of the European Union. Voters will be asked to vote for or against continued British membership of the EU, which at present consists of 28 Member States. The electorate appears evenly divided and the vote could go either way. The UK government favours continued membership, but the ruling Conservative Party is split down the middle. The opposition Labour Party backs continued membership as do the Scottish Nationalists (Scot Nats). The outcome is likely to depend upon to what extent Labour and Scot Nats supporters turn out to vote. Supporters of continued membership are generally referred to as being in the “In” or “Remain” camp. Supporters of withdrawal are described as being in the “Out” or “Brexit” (ie “Britain’s Exit”) camp.
However, most commentators seem to have lost track of the fact that the referendum is only advisory: it will not tie the government to one course of action or the other. In the event of an “Out” vote, for example, it is quite possible that the UK government will adopt the democratically questionable procedure pioneered a number of times by other Member States where the result of a referendum has gone against the wishes of the EU establishment, namely to engage in further, normally sham, negotiations, and then hold a second referendum on the spurious grounds that they have now got a better deal to present to the electorate and also in the hope that referendum fatigue will have set in, in the meantime, discouraging a large turnout and thus weakening the legitimacy of the result.
As of now, university students and the globe-trotting middle classes appear to be largely in favour of remaining in the EU, while stay-at-home poorer segments of the electorate tend to be more hard-headed and patriotic as well as less star-struck by foreign entanglements.
For Britain to leave the EU, the House of Commons (the lower house of the British parliament) would have to vote to repeal the 1972 European Communities Act , which gave primacy to European law and surrendered much of Britain’s sovereignty to European institutions on the Continent. Because of the parliamentary arithmetic, Antigone1984 thinks that this is unlikely to happen. Regardless of an “Out” vote in the country, half the Conservative Members of Parliament (MPs) together with most of the Labour Party’s MPs and virtually all the Scot Nats MPs are likely to oppose withdrawal. So we don’t think that it is going to happen whatever the result of the referendum. The referendum was called by the Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron not because he intended to bow to the democratically expressed wishes of the electorate – that would have been the last thing on his mind – but in order to allow his party – split down the middle on this issue – to let off steam while at the same time kicking this spiny topic into the long grass for at least another generation. By which time, of course, Mr Cameron himself is likely to be safely ensconced in the House of Lords and supremely unconcerned about the trivia that pass for politics in the lower house.
Of course, in any gamble there is the possibility of an upset. As the Scottish poet Robert Burns (1759-1796) once wrote, “the best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men gang aft a-gley”.
We have illustrated our argument with the occasional quotation. Unfortunately, some of the quotations we have used might be thought to have jingoistic connotations. We recognise this and regret it. However, those were the only quotations which came to mind in drafting this text. If readers can suggest appropriate but less chauvinistic quotations, we shall be happy to consider them.
Another problem with the quotations we have chosen is that they often refer only to England, whereas the referendum is addressed to citizens of the United Kingdom, which includes Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland as well as England. The problem is the same as the one we raised in the last paragraph. Only quotations referring to England came to mind when drafting this text. And there may be a reason for that. It may be that the inhabitants of this kingdom feel a sense of belonging to one of the four ancient nations of which it is constituted rather than to the somewhat abstract notion of the United Kingdom, which, in its present form, only came into existence in 1707, when Scotland was yoked to the other three national constituents. If readers can suggest appropriate quotations referring to the United Kingdom, we shall be happy to consider them.
Close readers of this blog will be aware that Antigone1984 has advocated Britain’s withdrawal from the EU since we first started publishing in 2011. We are not going to change now. Antigone1984 is unabashedly in favour of Brexit. Our reasons are set out at length in this text. Nor do we intend to bend over backwards to point up the virtues, if any there are, of the case now being put by the “In” camp. That is a job for the “In” camp. It is our job to put the “Out” case. This is a polemic, not an academic treatise.
This is, admittedly, a blockbuster of a text – the longest we have published on the blog. That reflects the importance of the issue. It is hard to think of a political decision that could be of greater significance for the future of the UK. However, Antigone1984 would not expect non-British readers to accord it the same attention as might be expected from the British electorate. Hence, readers are invited to read the text selectively, should they so wish, and skip any passages that they consider tiresome or abstruse.
A technical point. This text was originally drafted in the form of speaking notes for a pro-Brexit speech. The idea was to allow the different sections to be cannibalised at will, depending on the speaking time available and the whim of the speaker. Readers who have not fallen asleep after the first few paragraphs may notice that one or two passages have been repeated at different points in the text. That is because they apply equally to a number of different topics.
A personal note. The authors of this diatribe worked for some 20 years within the heart of the European institutions. The text that follows is the bitter fruit of their day-to-day experience of the realities of the European dream.
Nightmare would be a more exact term.
First drink a health, this solemn night,
A health to England, every guest;
That man’s the best cosmopolite,
Who loves his native country best.
This is the first verse of the poem “Hands All Round” by Alfred, Lord Tennyson (1809-1892), the Victorian Poet Laureate.
Let me put it to you straight.
If Britain leaves the EU, tsunamis will sweep across the land bringing sharks and crocodiles into our living rooms, winds of 1000 miles an hour will blow us into the sky, extinct volcanoes will suddenly erupt spewing out mountains of lava, earthquakes will turn our roads into chasms, our skyscrapers will be razed to the ground, plague and disease will ravage the land, the population will have no food and no shelter, herds of dinosaurs will roam the streets, the sun will grow dark and permanent night will cover the earth, the planets will explode, the milky way will turn green, the galaxies will cease to exist and the universe will be back where it was 13 billion years ago at the start of the Big Bang.
Given half a chance, this is the apocalyptic scenario that the Remain camp would paint to discourage you from voting for Brexit. In fact, they have totally independent statistics from their own Treasury to prove it.
The only thing is. It ain’t gunna happen.
We have never ever heard such tosh as the doomsday scenarios now being bandied about by the Remain camp.
A lot of people have claimed to be able to foretell the future but personally we have yet to meet someone who can actually do it. If anyone finds that they are in fact able to predict what is going to happen, then they might well find it profitable to spend a lot of their time in a betting shop.
The fact is that no one knows what is going to happen and that is the end of it.
As regards the In/Out campaign, our guess is at least as good as theirs.
People talk about risk. From the cradle to the grave, we are surrounded by risk. You cross a road and you take a risk. You get in an aeroplane and you take a risk. In business we are encouraged to take risks. Innovation depends on it. As far as risk is concerned, there is no getting away from it.
So, whether we stay in the EU or get out we can’t avoid being exposed to risk. Risks are intrinsic to human life.
So let’s put paid once and for all to the myth that leaving the EU will carry risks, but that staying in will – somehow miraculously – be risk-free.
This is bunkum. And they know it.
A BIRD’S EYE VIEW OF WHY BRITAIN SHOULD THROW AWAY THE EU CRUTCH
For those with no time to lose themselves in the detail, here are some of the key points set out in our case for Brexit:
- The EU is demonstrably more inefficient at taking decisions than the national alternative. The 28 EU Member States have to participate in any agreement. Too many cooks spoil the broth. The upshot: chaos (eg the recent refugee fiasco) or interminable delay.
- The EU is too remote to be able to assess national or local requirements with any degree of accuracy.
- The surrender of national sovereignty is too high a price to pay for the mirage of a higher GDP that as often as not fails to materialize. Individual Member States are now satrapies in an incipient EU empire. Their sovereignty has been watered down to the extent that in many cases – eg Greece, Ireland and Portugal – national governments are merely executors of policy dictated by Brussels, Frankfurt and Washington.
- One can be pro-Europe but opposed to the European Union. There are perfectly valid alternatives to the status quo. As history shows, the countries of Europe can relate to each other perfectly satisfactorily outside the EU strait-jacket.
- The EU is a pro-market capitalist organisation becoming more so as it develops and expands. No socialist – as opposed to careerist conservative politicians masquerading as socialists – supports it. Privatisation of public services is hard-wired into EU ideology.
- The putative democratic guarantees of EU membership are a figment of EU public relations. At the time of writing, the political conjuncture in France (state of emergency, the arbitrary arrest of dissidents, legislation by guillotine by-passing parliament) fails to satisfy the classic definition of democracy. Ditto for Poland and Hungary.
- The much-flaunted environmental policies of the EU are modestly funded bolt-ons to its core free market. They are, in any case, being rapidly watered down as the EU’s cave-in to corporate lobbyists removes the need to pay lip-service to non-market interests. Rather than protecting it, the EU, in response to corporate lobbying, has recently taken a number of decisions that will damage the environment, such as weakening the regulatory limits for motor vehicle emissions (despite the Volkswagen scandal and at variance with last December’s climate change deal in Paris). Again caving in to industry lobbies, it has postponed the introduction of bans on (1) the carcinogenic herbicide “roundup”, (2) endocrine-disrupting bisphenols used in plastics, and (3) neonicotinoids that are destroying the bees which pollinate Europe’s crops. The European Union an environmental paladin? Pull the other one!
8. EU social policy is, by definition, restricted to employment conditions and does not cover other areas of the welfare state, such as health, housing and social services, which remain the province of the EU’s member states. It has resulted in some improvement in working conditions in the fields of equal pay for men and women and health and safety at work. However, the object is not specifically to improve working conditions per se, a task which is essentially left to the member states, but to ensure that national differences in working conditions do not impede the smooth functioning of the EU-wide free market (eg by harmonizing working conditions so that member states with higher levels of social protection at work are not at a disadvantage as a result of competition from states with lower degrees of protection).Nonetheless, to a great extent, social policy remains the preserve of the member states. Improvements in working conditions still depend essentially on national polices, which reflect the political ideologies – right or left – dominant in the governments of individual member states and the balance of power in individual countries between trade unions and employers. The driving force behind the betterment of working conditions remains, as has always been the case, the socialist commitment of political parties opposed to the status quo and the strength of the trade union movement vis-à-vis employers’ organisations in individual states.Thus, it is highly misleading to big up EU social policy as the key determinant of workers’ rights, as the British Labour Party has done in support of its (unsuccessful) 2016 referendum campaign in favour of continued UK membership of the EU. In the UK social progress has derived from the awakening of working class consciousness and the rise of socialist movements in Britain: the Luddite riots of 1811, the Blanketeer march of 1817, the Peterloo Massacre of 1819, the repeal in 1824 of the anti-union Combination Acts, the Factory Acts (from 1833 onwards), the Chartist Movement of the 1840s, the foundation of the Trades Union Congress in 1868 and the Labour Party in 1900, the repeal of the Trade Dispute Act in 1906, and, not least, the gradual concession of universal suffrage in the 19th and 20th centuries. This will continue to be the case for the foreseeable future, EU or no EU.
It is up to the UK Labour Party, therefore, and the UK trade unions – liaising, where appropriate, with their European counterparts but fighting their own battles – to secure an advance in worker rights. It is a cop-out to suggest, as the Labour Party has done in the 2016 referendum campaign, that only if the UK stays within the EU will working conditions improve. In fact, with EU ideology moving at warp speed in a free market direction (eg the EU-imposed sell-off of Greek state assets to international capital), the contrary is the case.
Get off your backsides, Brothers! This is your job and yours alone. Go to it!
9. In the EU national, local and regional differences are being ironed out to produce a flattened impediment-free economic terrain where Big Business can enjoy economies of scale without the need to tailor its products and services to accommodate particular national preferences. Welcome to clone-chained Europe!
10. The embryo of the EU, the European Coal and Steel Community, came into being in 1952. The so-called socialist parties and trade unions in the EU have had 64 years since then to move Europe in a socialist direction. During that time the political and industrial left has been severely weakened across the Continent. By contrast, giant private corporations have gone from strength to strength. All the evidence suggests that we should get out of the EU straight away before it is too late – before the EU gets the chance to foist upon us its latest scheme for a further massive extension of the power of Big Business – the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership.
The following polemic is divided into two sections:
1.The case against the EU
2. The case against the pro-EU U-turn executed by UK Labour Party leader
1. THE CASE AGAINST THE EUROPEAN UNION
OUR FRIEND FRED AND HIS BUSINESS
I’ll start by talking about our friend Fred.
Fred was a middle-aged executive coasting along in a nuts-and-bolts job in an engineering company in Wolverhampton in the English midlands when he had a light-bulb moment. Eureka! Throwing caution to the winds, he decided to get out and establish his own start-up in a very tiny niche market. His friends all said he was a lunatic. He could have stayed at his post and retired early with a small but copper-bottomed pension. Instead he launched himself into the rough-and-tumble of a cut-throat market with only a modicum of personal savings to invest in the business. The niche he had selected, his friends were sure, was a non-starter and he would lose out big time. However, Fred ignored these jeremiahs, rolled his sleeves up and buckled down. Within five years he had a company that was one of only nine firms in the world that specialized in his particular field.
A few years ago Fred decided to retire and sold his firm to a large conglomerate for around 50 million smackers.
Now why have we told you this?
Well, we were talking to Fred the other day, as it happens, about the referendum campaign. “So how are you going to vote,” we asked Fred, who is a down-to-earth chap with his head screwed on and someone who has better things to do than waste his time worrying about politics. “I dunno,” he said. “I can’t make up my mind. However, I suppose that when it comes down to it, I shall support those who want to keep Britain in the EU. Better the devil you know!”
“Well,” we replied. “We can see where you’re coming from. And you certainly have every right to vote whichever way you want. However, there is one point that we would like to put to you.
“When you were running your business and turning it into the success that it became, who took the key decisions?”
“Well, I did, of course,” he replied. “Who else?”
“Well, then, Fred,” we continued. “Perhaps you wouldn’t mind answering another question?
“Don’t you think your business might have turned out to be an even greater success if you had organised your firm a bit differently. Suppose that – instead of taking the decisions yourself as regards what you thought was the best way forward for the company – suppose that your company was structured in such a way that you had to agree key business decisions with 27 other executives before you could go ahead. Each of these executives would have as much right to vote as yourself and each of them would have the right to veto any proposal that anyone else put forward.”
“Don’t be stupid,” said Fred. “It would be a bloody shambles.”
We then pointed out that decisions in the European Council, the EU’s main decision-making body, are taken by all 28 heads of government (or heads of state) of the 28 EU member states.
“Get away!” said Fred. “The result would be chaos.”
“Unfortunately, Fred,” we told him, “that is precisely the situation – and you are perfectly right: the result IS chaos.”
Fred had a chuckle.
We’re happy to be able to tell readers that he’s now going to vote for Brexit.
The fact is that, in general, less is more and small is beautiful, particularly when efficient decision-taking is paramount.
In the European Union 28 heads of government or state have to agree on a course of action, not just one. The result is chaos or stasis or, at best, an infinity of delays before anything can be done.
There is no question, therefore, but that Brexit would expedite decision-taking so far as Britain is concerned. No longer would our Prime Minister have to undertake a humiliating milk-round of European capitals, as was the case recently when David Cameron had to shuttle around the Continent, begging bowl in hand, during his sham “negotiations” with the other 27 heads of government.
Negotiating in the EU is like walking through quicksand. You always get bogged down. Cameron frequently talks of getting rid of red tape and bureaucracy. The answer is simple: Brexit. The larger the organisation, the more difficult it is to get things done.
Not only that, but EU decisions affecting EU member states also suffer from the remoteness of the EU bureaucracy. What do they know in Brussels of the situation in Worcester or Carlisle? The answer is diddly-squat. Decisions about local issues are best taken locally, by people who know the terrain, not by Eurocrats sitting in an ivory tower in Brussels.
The subsidiarity much vaunted by the EU is, in practice, a dead letter. As Shakespeare said in Hamlet, “it is a custom more honoured in the breach than in the observance”.
It is fondly imagined that the EU will help out in time of trouble. Oh yes? Tell that to the Greeks. Abetted by Washington, the EU has asset-stripped Greece and hung it out to dry. Is that what we want for us when we are in trouble?
By leaving the EU, we shall regain our sovereignty. What we have at present is a “watered-down” version of sovereignty. We are only one of 28 in the EU’s decision-making Council. The EU has stripped member governments of their individual right to run their own economies as they see fit in the interests of their own people. Out of the EU, Britain would be once again its own boss, able to take decisions by itself in its own interests. By leaving, we would regain full sovereignty. Let’s go for it. Let’s have the full Monty, not this half-baked bureaucratic muddle that is the EU.
Two treaties currently being negotiated in secret will cut back still further our sovereignty.
One is the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP). This is a proposed agreement between the USA and the EU that is being negotiated by the European Commission in secret. Why the unelected Commission and not the Member States? Because, under EU law, it is the European Commission alone that has the right to to negotiate commercial agreements between EU Member States and countries outside the EU. Individual EU Member states – Britain, for instance – are not allowed to conduct their own individual trade negotiations!
[This transatlantic partnership (the TTIP) parallels the Trans-Pacific Partnership between the USA and twelve Pacific Rim countries (excluding China, of course) that was signed on 4 February 2016 but is not yet in force. It also dovetails neatly with the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) between the US, Canada and Mexico that has been in force since 1994.]
The other major treaty being negotiated in secret is the global Trade In Services Agreement (TISA). The parties to the negotiation again include the US and the European Commission but also other major trading nations, such as Australia and Canada.
The adoption of these treaties will signify the surrender of our democracy to big business. Staffed by company lawyers, the supreme commercial court that is envisaged under the treaties is to be staffed by company lawyers. It will have the power to fine and rule against democratically elected governments that act contrary to the wishes of mammoth global corporations. Democracy is to be overridden by business interests.
This is an extract from a letter that was published in the Guardian newspaper on 18 April 2016:
“…. does anyone believe that Corbyn’s larger reason for remaining – to reform the EU and recalibrate it as a more financially equal, just and caring society – would happen? Could he shift US and EU positions on the TTIP, an item strangely unmentioned in the government postal handout of the “full facts”? So could we end up staying in under the stewardship of Osborne and Cameron with more of the same – renewed austerity and free-market inequity?….”
This is another letter that was published in the Guardian on 18 April 2016:
“MEPs and trade unionists who maintain that it is possible to have an EU-US trade deal (TTIP) that would exclude the NHS and other public services from its reach (Letters, 12 April) are either being disingenuous or do not understand what they are dealing with. TTIP, CETA (EU-Canada) and TISA (Trade in Services Agreement) are all being negotiated in secret by the European commission and in reality have little or nothing to do with trade. They are all binding supranational treaties that will give transnational corporations unprecedented powers to shape domestic legislation for the maximisation of corporate profit without hindrance from elected governments at local, regional or national level. So-called standstill and ratchet clauses will make it impossible for EU member states to re-nationalise any parts of their economy currently undertaken by private capital, lest they run the risk of being sued for tens of millions of euros under investor state mechanisms allowing foreign companies to sue sovereign countries.
[Former Labour Party boss] David Miliband’s outdated, cold-war view of the EU (12 April) cannot disguise that it too is an instrument for corporate hegemony at the expense of local democracy. Nevertheless, in common with the other large UK unions, GMB has opted to support the UK’s continued membership of the European single market and try to change it from within. Only time will tell whether that is a prudent strategy but, in the meantime, we are firmly in line with the TUC policy of outright opposition to trade deals that will be of no benefit to our members or, indeed, the public.”
International officer, GMB
Having written a letter making a powerful case for Britain to leave the EU, the GMB’s international officer lamely concludes that the GMB has decided to support the Remain camp. “Only time will tell whether that is a prudent strategy,” he adds.
How long do they want? Britain has been an EU member state for 43 years. During that time the power of trade unions has been severely weakened across the Continent. By contrast, giant private corporations have gone from strength to strength. The fact that the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership is being discussed at all shows how powerful giant private corporations have become. All the evidence suggests that we should get out of the EU straight away before it is too late – before the EU gets the chance to foist upon us this latest scheme for a further massive extension of the power of Big Business. By its own logic the GMB should recommend pulling out lickety-split. Why is it not doing so? One can only guess. My guess is that the big unions have had their arms twisted by the pro-EU Labour Party, to which they are generally subservient.
And now I’ll let you into a secret.
It may come as a surprise to some but the European Union is not ultimately about Europe at all. Ultimately, this is a project with global ambitions. The EU is a temporary regional political entity devised essentially to bulldoze into being a regional level playing field for global market forces. These market forces are controlled by mega businesses and banking cartels (many of them American, needless to say) on the grave of national sovereignty, historic regional cultures and economic diversity. But that is not all. The endgame is not Europe at all. The shadowy forces behind the EU, such as the so-called European Movement and the Bilderberg Group, have a bigger target in sight This is nothing less than….the whole world . The EU has been designed as a first stage in the creation, by way of the same homogenizing strategy, of a global level playing field for those self-same mega corporate interests.
This is no fantasy. The evidence is crystal clear.
You have only to consider the two all-embracing agreements on free trade in goods and services just mentioned that are currently being negotiated between the US and the European Commission. If you then relate these two agreements to the Trans-Pacific Partnership between the US and twelve Pacific Rim countries and also to the North American Free Trade Agreement between the US, Canada and Mexico, you will begin to get the picture. The US is systematically striking bilateral deals with separate regions of the world to eliminate trade barriers in the interests of its mega corporations. The EU is just one of these regions. Latin America is the next target. Why do you think Obama was so keen to cosy up to Cuba, historically one of the main obstacles to a reprochement between the US and Latin America? Once the whole world is carved up into regional economic units serving the interests of US big business, the regions can be abolished and a uniform global economy will come into being administered by and in the interests of guess who? The United States, of course. That is the plan. And the EU is essential to it. Which is why Obama is so keen to prevent Brexit. Britain, more than any other European country, is the eyes and ears of the US in the EU. It is America’s Trojan mule in Brussels. The much bigged-up environmental and social policies of the EU are, in reality, no more than cosmetic light-weight add-ons to the overriding standardizing thrust of the EU’s free-market policies.
Let us move on to immigration, which is a hot potato in the referendum campaign.
Throughout history people in general have tended to die roughly in the same part of the world as that in which they were born. The reason is simple: people prefer to stay put and live in the same neighbourhood as their extended family and the friends with which they were brought up.
So why do we have immigration?
Immigrants can be divided into two broad categories: economic migrants seeking jobs and refugee migrants fleeing war or persecution.
There are about half a million Poles in the UK and about half a million French citizens – to mention only the top two suppliers of immigrants to the UK. We already had unemployment in the UK before these immigrants came. Therefore, they are bound to take jobs from UK citizens. It’s a no-brainer. You cannot put a gallon into a pint pot. It is possible that some additional jobs are created in due course, but that is no consolation to the UK citizen who has lost their job to the incomers.
Immigrants can undercut the wages of UK citizens for three reasons:
- To save money to send back home, many immigrants to UK live in cheap substandard accommodation and multiple-occupation housing; as a result, they can make do with lower salaries than native workers subject to standard accommodation costs;
- They tend to come from relatively low-wage economies so that even a low UK wage is better than the pay they would get for the same work back in their home country;
- A low wage in UK is better than unemployment in their home countries.
The long-term lasting solution is for the world’s rich countries to provide aid and investment to create jobs in the countries from which the economic migrants come.
These are fleeing war or persecution.
The long-term solutionis to end wars and oppression. Western countries could help achieve this objective by ceasing to make shedloads of tainted money by selling arms in conflict zones, as the US and EU governments – particularly Britain and France – have been doing for decades in the Middle East. Britain, for example, has recently been assiduously supplying Saudi Arabia with weaponry and battlefield tacticians, thus enabling it to bomb Yemen out of existence.
Pending long-term solutions, the rich first world, which has exploited and impoverished the rest of the planet for at least five centuries, has a moral duty to treat both kinds of migrants – both refugees and economic migrants – with humanity and courtesy and to give them financial and social support.
Here again the European Union has failed abysmally.
When the first mass waves of immigrants began to cross the Mediterranean a couple of years ago in search of a better life in Europe, the initial European reaction was chaotic. The European Union failed to come up with a collective response and it was left to the countries where the immigrants landed, mainly Italy (economically in the doldrums) and Greece (an economic basket case) to deal largely on their tod with the new arrivals. Inevitably, once again the result was chaos.
Not every would-be immigrant managed to reach Italy or Greece. Thousands died at sea when the rickety overladen vessels into people smugglers had stuffed them capsized. Others were rescued from drowning by European patrol boats, particularly vessels from the Italian navy, Italy having a long and honourable humanitarian tradition.
However, the number of immigrants continued to mount. Last year more than a million migrants made it to Europe, most of them ending up in Germany as a result of the initial open-arms approach – since abandoned – adopted by Chancellor Angela Merkel.
At this point fortress Europe began to pull up the draw-bridge.
The most inhuman approach was advocated by the British Government. From the outset of the crisis, of the big European states, Britain had taken in the lowest number of immigrants. The few who make it to Britain are, in any case, often warehoused for years in detention camps. Britain now announced that the focus of its Mediterranean patrol vessels would no longer be on saving the lives of drowning immigrants whose dinghies had been shipwrecked but rather on pursuing the people smugglers who had enabled them to board the vessels in the first place. The British view, expressed publicly by government ministers without a shred of compunction or compassion, was that by rescuing drowning immigrants you simply encouraged more immigrants to undertake the perilous sea-crossing. The thing to do was to let those drowning drown. That would learn ’em! And it would also send a stark message to would-be emigrants back home.
Needless to say, the focus on putting the people smugglers out of business failed abysmally, as the Brits knew it was bound to do. Without police and military bases in North Africa and Turkey and without the right to land, find and seize the smugglers in lands bordering the Mediterranean, the operation was doomed from the start. The Brits proposed it, not because they seriously believed it would work, but simply as a public relations exercise to deflect attention from the glaring inhumanity of the British plan to look the other way as the drowning drowned.
The European Union then held dozens of meetings – some seven or eight at summits of the leaders of its 28 Member States – to try and forge a common policy. At one of these the Member States agreed collectively to distribute up to about 160 000 migrants among themselves in proportion to their own relative economic or demographic size. Immediately thereafter, tearing up the agreement they had just signed, one by one Member States closed their borders and blocked entry to further immigrants. The distribution plan remains a dead letter.
Finally, on 18 March 2016 the EU cut an immigration deal with Turkey.
Turkey would stem the flow of immigrants to Greece from Syria and elsewhere and also take back immigrants arriving in Greece after 20 March 2016 in exchange for a fee of 6 billion euros, visa-free travel in Europe for Turkey’s population of 75 million, and the resumption of talks on EU membership for Turkey.
To qualify for the visa concession, Turkey agreed to tone down its anti-terror law, which criminalises not only terrorists themselves but also journalists and activists generally whose activities or comments are deemed to have abetted terrorism.
However, the agreement is now up in the air. Europe has been slow in coming up with the readies, while the Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has said that Turkey has no intention of toning down its anti-terror law. On the contrary, it will seek to beef it up.
Three million Syrian refugees have already entered Turkey. It is not clear that Turkey, with its still developing economy, has the capacity or the will to accommodate further immigrants, including those sent back by Greece, in decent conditions.
The EU-Turkey deal has also attracted repeated criticism from the UN on human rights grounds.
Europe, if it got its act together, certainly has the capacity to absorb further immigration. Most of the 28 EU states are among the richest countries in the world. Their joint population is 508 million. They could absorb one or two million immigrants without major disruption if they went about it fairly, efficiently and professionally. Dream on!
The chaos of the refugee crisis is just the latest example of the inherent stasis and ultimate inadequacy of the European Union. It confirms what we pointed out to our friend Fred towards the start of this article. A better case for Brexit could not be invented.
However, it is important also, when formulating immigration policy, to take account of the sometimes deep-rooted causes of the widespread opposition to immigration in parts of Europe.
We flesh out this point below.
Host country attitudes towards immigrants
In general, moderate immigration is accepted by native residents of host countries. It is when it gets out of proportion – admittedly an arbitrary assessment – that they resent it and this often results in increased worries about employment and a rise in racism and xenophobia.
That is why curbs are often imposed in the host country once immigration has reached a critical mass, whatever that may be.
This is a letter which was published in the Guardian on 18 April 2016:
Your editorial and Martin Kettle’s comments on Jeremy Corbyn’s pro-EU speech (both 15 April) fastidiously avoided addressing its failure to adequately meet the concerns of the majority of Labour voters over the EU’s inability to control the flow of people across its borders. To really keep us in Europe Corbyn needs to persuade voters that he will work with other socialist governments, themselves losing support across Europe because of this issue, to address the democratic concerns of the majority about migration.
The concerns to which Mr Hines refers affect many ordinary people up and down the UK. Migration is of little direct concern to the affluent and complacent metropolitan elite. The latter quite appreciation immigration as it supplies them with a palatable variety of foreign restaurants at which to eat out.
“Que la France reste la France, que l’Angleterre reste l’Angleterre, que l’Allemagne reste l’Allemagne, et ainsi de suite.”
“May France remain France, may England remain England, may Germany remain Germany, and so on.”
Sentiment expressed by a eurosceptic Member of the European Parliament
When it comes to immigration, Antigone1984 has always been in favour of multiculturalism – the right of immigrants to hold on to their native culture and language while at the same time picking up the culture and language of the host community. We are in favour of integration, not assimilation.
However, we also recognize the importance of rootedness. People in general, in our opinion, tend to feel the need to belong to one – or more – particular cultures in which they feel at home. The German word “Heimat” – a term laden with deep-seated nostalgic connotations in the Teutonic world – is closely related to rootedness. Its meaning embraces the concepts of home, homeland, native land, native soil and even native region. A related word “Heimweh” is the German term for homesickness – a longing for one’s native land.
It is not surprising, therefore, that it is a German author who was one of the earliest to analyse the concept of rootedness. The human need for rootedness was emphasized by the German writer Johann Gottfried Herder (1744-1803). Here is a paraphrase of two essays on Herder by philosopher Isaiah Berlin (1909-1997) in the July and August 1965 numbers of Encounter magazine:
Herder was responsible for three major cultural insights. He believed in:
- Populism: the value of belonging to a group or culture; every individual is inescapably rooted in his own culture, in his own nation. Pity the poor cosmopolitan who has no nation or culture to sustain him. An individual’s native language is the key component in this culture.
- Expressionism. Human society and art in particular express (or reflect) the personality of an individual or group. Works of art are intimately connected with their makers and cannot be examined in isolation or, as it were, in a vacuum.
- Pluralism: belief not merely in the multiplicity but in the incommensurability of the values of different cultures and societies and also the incompatibility of equally valid ideals, together with the implied corollary that the classical notions of an ideal man and of an ideal society are intrinsically incoherent and meaningless.
Herder believed in patriotism to one’s culture rather than to one’s state.
Like Aristotle (384-322 BC), John of Salisbury (1120-1180), Richard Hooker (1554-1600), Blaise Pascal ((1623-1662) and Edmund Burke (1729-1797), he espoused the age-old notion of society as an organism.
Common cultural traditions, realized in the unique language of each community, are the basis of that community (the nation). Compare the organic community of the past championed by English critic F. R. Leavis (1895-1978).
“…Wildly differing societies and their ideals are not commensurable. Such questions as which of them is the best, or even which one would prefer, which one would judge to be nearer to the universal human ideal….are, therefore, for a thinker of this type, meaningless,“ says Berlin.
The ideas of different societies are often incompatible. This is as true of the past as it is of the present. Thus, “if we choose to emulate the Greeks, we cannot also emulate the Hebrews….”
There is a property, not capable of being abstracted and articulated – that which is German in the Germans – which permeates the heterogeneous activities of the Nation’s life. Moreover, “the specific quality which each type of activity will show forth, will have more in common with generically different activities of the same culture than with specifically similar actions of another culture…In other words, what German epic poetry has in common with German family life or German legislation or German grammar… runs through them more deeply…than that which German poetry has in common with Hindu or Hebrew poetry.”
“A German exiled from the milieu of his fellow Germans, perhaps a Saxon or a Prussian forced to live elsewhere, will not feel at home there; and whoever does not feel at home, cannot create naturally, freely, generously, unselfconsciously.” Herder believes that you have to be where you belong. For Herder, the individual is inescapably a member of some group; consequently, all that he does must express, consciously or unconsciously, the aspirations of his group.”
We must seek to be true to ourselves.
“Let us be characteristic of our nation, language, scene…[We must] find our own centre of gravity…or that of the group – nation, region, community – to which we belong. Without such belonging there is no true creation, no true realisation of human goals. Hence, to foist alien values on a Nation (as missionaries were doing, for example, in India) is both ineffective and harmful. Worst of all are those who have no group, because they are exiled or self-exiled, physically or spiritually…and so doomed to sterility. As a social psychologist, Herder rose above his generation; more clearly than any other writer, he conceived and cast light upon the crucially important social function of ‘belonging’ – on what it is to belong to a group, culture, a movement, a form of life.”
Antigone1984 is hopeful that Herder would concur with us in rejecting the oft-peddled sophism that nationalism = populism = xenophobia = racism.
Now we address fleetingly some of the unfulfilled promises of the EU:
- The EU was supposed to make us prosperous. So why do we stumble on from one economic crisis to another? We have been a member of the EU for over 40 years, so why are we still mired in economic austerity? The fact is that we were sold a pup. It was all talk. The supposedly wonderful eurozone, on which we are currently dependent for trade, is sinking below the weight of its own bureaucracy. Whatever it does, however much money the ECB pumps into it, the eurozone economy continues to flat-line. Alas, mesmerized by siren voices from across the Channel, we abandoned our historic trading links with the Commonwealth – links which provided us in our lifetime with wholesome butter and lamb that did not cost an arm and a leg. Those links should be revived once we extricate ourselves from the morass of the European Union.
- Alongside its much-vaunted promise of economic prowess, the EU was supposed to turn Europe into a major military and diplomatic power on the world stage. It didn’t happen. The mighty European Union is completely dependent on the United States for its security and its diplomatic clout. It is a truth universally acknowledged that independent nations put their own interests first. Let us ask you this. Do you really think that, in the event of a major stand-off with another nuclear power, when US cities were not directly threatened, do you believe that the United States would press the nuclear button to defend a ragbag of European states against outside aggression? Maybe you do. But remember this: it didn’t happen when Russia invaded the Ukraine just over a year ago (in 2014). We heard lots of fine words from the White House, but no boots on the ground. And so it will be again. If you want security, you have to provide it for yourself. No one else will do it for you. We were told when we joined the European Economic Community in 1973 that by signing up we would punch above our weight in the world. How hollow those words sound now! In terms of foreign and military policy, the states of the EU are nothing more than lickspittle lackeys of the United States.
And, of course, within the EU, we are just one of 28 Member States. Outside the EU, we would be free to make our own treaties and conclude our own alliances with whomsoever we chose. We would be an independent state again.
Barack Obama has popped into London on the occasion of the Queen’s 90th birthday but his main purpose, with the referendum in mind, is to ram home the message that Britain should stay put in the EU. In the immortal words of high-society demi-rep Mandy Rice-Davies (1944-2014) from the Swinging Sixties: “Well, he would, wouldn’t he?” In the EU Britain is America’s Trojan mule, the ears and eyes of the United States. Why wouldn’t he want us to stay?
Speaking 19 April 2016, pro-Brexit MP Liam Fox said: “When the US has an open border with Mexico, a Supreme Court in Toronto and the US budget set by a pan-American committee then his views might hold greater weight.”
In the Guardian on 22 April 2016, another pro-Brexit MP, Iain Duncan Smith, is quoted as saying that by backing the Remain campaign [as Obama has in fact done] the US President would be asking British citizens to accept a surrender of sovereignty that Americans would never be willing to contemplate.
“I have a huge amount of respect for America’s unrelenting commitment to the patriotic principle of self-governance,” said Mr Duncan Smith. “President Obama and every one of his predecessors have ferociously protected the sovereignty of the USA – and I only wish we could say the same of our leaders.”
The United States is never going to submit its own institutions to oversight by an alien bureaucracy.
People often confuse the EU with Europe. We supporters of Brexit are not against Europe. We are against a particular type of Europe, the Europe that wears the straitjacket of the European Union. We are in favour of a different kind of Europe, a Europe of Nation States – Nation States that manage their own economies independently but still trade amicably with each other in whatever sector both parties consider such commerce to be in their mutual interest. A Europe that is liberated from the one-size-fits-all corset imposed by Brussels on all states subject to the diktats of the European Union.
Any suggestion to the contrary is simply scaremongering.
If we leave the EU, our world is not going to end. We are not going to be swallowed up into a great black hole. Nor will we immediately start a war with those who have chosen to remain Member States of the EU. The UK will negotiate new relationships in peace and amity, as we have done countless times in our bulldog history. King Offa of Mercia, who built the dyke, signed a commercial treaty with the European Emperor Charlemagne as far back as 796. Our history since medieval times is peppered with commercial treaties between our country and the Continent. We shall conclude treaties and cut deals as we have always done. After Brexit, however, we shall do so freely without the need to kowtow to pen-pushing continental panjandrums.
Peaceful relations between the nations of Europe outside the European Union are easy to envisage. The EU is not the only kid on the block. There are other ways of managing interstate relations. Nations can conclude treaties with other nations or groups of nations on an ad hoc basis, as the need arises, without needing to be confined by the strait-jacket of the EU and its “one-size-fits-all” policies.
The Rhine Navigation Treaty, in place since 1815, has regulated the Rhine artery for over two centuries, smoothly and efficiently and to the quiet satisfaction of the riverine states but bereft of all the ballyhoo and red tape intrinsic to any dealings with the EU.
So it can be done.
We should be working with our allies in Europe, not abandoning them, the Remain camp says. Michael Gove (speaking 19 April 2016): A British exit from the EU could spark “the liberation of a whole continent” as other members followed suit. He compared the EU with its “mock parliament” to sprawling and ultimately unsustainable regimes throughout history, from the Ottoman empire to tsarist Russia.
In any case, Britain has a perfect right to leave the EU if it wants to. This right is specifically set out in Article 50 of the Treaty on European Union: “Any Member State may decide to withdraw from the Union in accordance with its own constitutional requirements.” This article also provides for negotiations to take place between the withdrawing state and the EU to determine future relations. So Brexit is a perfectly legitimate procedure provided for under EU law. In any club, if a member decides that they no longer want to belong, they are entitled to resign. What is all the fuss about?
Regardless of the crumbs that Cameron brought home from the EU table after his sham negotiations, the aim is still a federal free market that provides an ever-expanding homogeneous base for the activities of giant global corporations. But not for small businesses or ordinary hard-working families. Oh no! With the aim of standardizing the market and ironing out its idiosyncracies, the EU steam-roller is systematically destroying national and regional cultures, national and regional customs and traditions, national and regional styles of running an economy. Again it is to Germany that we can turn for a word that precisely describes this procrustean homogenisation of political, economc and cultural differences – Gleichschaltung.
In the second series of the Paris Review “Writers at Work” series, the American poet Ezra Pound (1885-1972), spoke of “the struggle to keep the value of a local and particular culture in this awful maelstrom, this awful avalanche [in the modern world] toward uniformity.”
If the harmonizing bureaucrats of the EU had their way, cultural diversity, which is clearly an impediment to the free play of market forces, would be reduced to Morris dancing round a Maypole.
In Spain the traditional afternoon siesta is fast being phased out as it does not suit the management style of global foreign businesses that have invested there. And yet in a country where the summer temperature can reach 45° C at midday the afternoon break or siesta is a sensible method of adapting production to local conditions.
The EU, however, represents the uncritical acceptance of global market forces. The EU’s mantra is a free market that has displaced the gods of religion as the deity to be worshipped. The EU treaties are openly described as the Eurocrats’ “Bible”. Environmental and social policies are just afterthoughts bolted on to the almighty market.
And now I’ll let you into a secret.
It may come as a surprise to some but the European Union is not ultimately about Europe at all. In the last resort, this is a project with global ambitions. The EU is merely a temporary regional political entity devised essentially to bulldoze into being a regional level playing field for global market forces. These market forces are controlled by mega businesses and banking cartels (many of them American, needless to say) on the grave of national sovereignty, historic regional cultures and economic diversity. But that is not all. The endgame is not Europe at all. The shadowy forces behind the EU, such as the so-called European Movement and the Bilderberg Group, have a bigger target in sight This is nothing less than….the whole world . The EU has been designed as the first stage in the creation, by way of the same homogenizing strategy, of a global level playing field for those self-same mega corporate interests.
This is no fantasy. The evidence is crystal clear.
You have only to consider the two all-embracing agreements on free trade in goods and services mentioned earlier that are currently being negotiated between the US and the European Commission. If you then relate these two agreements to the Trans-Pacific Partnership between the US and twelve Pacific Rim countries and also to the North American Free Trade Agreement between the US, Canada and Mexico, you will begin to get the picture. The US is systematically striking bilateral deals with separate regions of the world to eliminate trade barriers in the interests of its mega corporations. The EU is just one of these regions. Latin America is the next target. Why do you think Obama was so keen to cosy up to Cuba, historically one of the main obstacles to a reprochement between the US and Latin America? Once the whole world is carved up into regional economic units serving the interests of US big business, the regions can be abolished and a uniform global economy will come into being administered by and in the interests of guess who? The United States, of course. That is the plan. And the EU is essential to it. Which is why Obama is so keen to prevent Brexit. Britain, more than any other European country, is the eyes and ears of the US in the EU. It is America’s Trojan mule in Brussels. The much bigged-up environmental and social policies of the EU are, in reality, no more than cosmetic light-weight add-ons to the overriding standardizing thrust of the EU’s free-market policies.
OUR FRIEND GILL AND HER BUSINESS
We’ll finish by talking about our friend Gill . Gill is a real person and what we describe is actually the case, although we have tweaked a few details.
Gill is an architect. She took her undergraduate degree in architecture at Cambridge and won the prize for best student in her year. Gill took a further degree in architecture at Princeton and then worked for a prominent architecture firm in New York. Later, back in London, she did various stints in the offices of well-known UK architects. Subsequently, along with two other Cambridge contemporaries she set up her own boutique practice in the East End. The business has been around now for some seven or eight years, has won a sheaf of awards and is steadily gaining contracts and prominence.
However, pay for architects is relatively low, particularly so in view of the nine years they have to spend training. Architects generally get 10 % of the total project price but this is paid in dribs and drabs and must be enough, in any case, to cover all overheads, including rent and salaries.
So Gill is not exactly flush with cash despite the firm’s success. Nor, being self-employed, does she have a company pension.
So we asked her one day whether she would not prefer to be working as an employee on a full-time contract with a big architectural firm where her monthly income would be higher than at present and where she would also have a guaranteed pension.
Her answer was: “No way”.
True, her current financial situation would immediately be improved by such a move.
However, the downside would be intolerable.
Here she was her own boss, she took her own decisions, she managed her own affairs.
What’s not to like!
Money, she pointed out, is not everything. What about job satisfaction?
In her present set-up she had job satisfaction in spades. So why would she toss it up to become a humble middle-ranking employee being ordered about in someone else’s hierarchy?
And so it is too with national economies.
So what if our GDP is not the maximum it could possibly be.
So what if, for a time, we have a bit of a rough ride economically.
Bhutan is not one of the locomotives of the world economy. Its GDP is invisible compared with that of the United States. Yet year after year Bhutan comes out tops in the hit parade of states with the happiest populations.
So money isn’t everything.
If we leave the EU we shall have the freedom to run our country precisely as we want to without being bossed about by Brussels bureaucrats or Luxembourg judges.
Like Gill, we shall be our own boss again.
We shall regain our freedom and our sovereignty.
For better or worse, we shall be once again masters of our own destiny.
If that requires a bit of risk-taking, bring it on. It’s a price worth paying to regain our liberty.
Let us throw away our crutches.
Let us display once again the bulldog spirit for which this country was once famous.
Let us become a nation once again.
2. THE CASE AGAINST THE PRO-EU U-TURN EXECUTED BY UK LABOUR PARTY LEADER JEREMY CORBYN
The following is the text of a letter Antigone1984 sent to various newspapers following the pro-EU speech made by Jeremy Corbyn in London on 14 April 2016:
Pity the poor Corbynistas who voted in their thousands to elect lifelong leftie Jeremy Corbyn last autumn as Labour Party leader on the basis of the prospectus that this was a decent straight-talking bloke who had nailed his colours to the mast and would not climb down. You got what was written on the tin. Or so they thought. However, Corbyn’s appointment of a dyed-in-the-wool Blairite shadow cabinet two days after his election should have given pause for thought. And now he has “come out” as an EU patsy. Those voting for Corbyn must surely, when voting, have taken cognizance of his inveterate euroscepticism. They must be somewhat nonplussed, therefore, to find that their hero, having at last acceded to a position of power after three decades as an obscure backbencher, has suddenly jettisoned his erstwhile convictions and surrendered, in the time-honoured tradition of Labour leaders, to the dictates of the Westminster elite. It didn’t take long. One thinks inevitably of Lord Acton. Moreover, now that Corbyn has sullied the reputation for integrity that is his unique selling point, his support among Labour radicals – once the scales have fallen from their eyes – is bound to wane. His party opponents must be sharpening their knives. It is all so sad. Passing up a historic chance to extricate this country from the tentacles of the EU octopus, this ostensibly sea-green incorruptible has caved in lock, stock and barrel to the blandishments of the europhiliac consensus. In Corbyn we have our very own Alexis Tsipras.
That was the letter.
This is what prompted it.
In a major speech on 14 April 2016 – to the delight of the Labour Party’s rightwing Blairite clique and their claque on the Guardian – Corbyn, the veteran eurosceptic, confirmed his shift into the pro-EU camp.
According to a BBC report that day, he said:
“Over the years I have been critical of many decisions taken by the EU, and I remain critical of its shortcomings from its lack of democratic accountability to the institutional pressure to deregulate or privatise public services. So Europe needs to change. But that change can only come from working with our allies in the EU. It’s perfectly possible to be critical and still be convinced we need to remain a member.”
He argued that there was “a strong socialist case for staying in the European Union, just as there is also a powerful socialist case for reform and progressive change in Europe”.
Asked why he had been converted to the EU cause, after speaking against it so many times in the past and voting to come out in the 1975 referendum, he said the Labour Party and trade unions had “overwhelmingly” decided to back EU membership “and that’s the party I lead and that’s the position I am putting forward”.
However, in the past the previously eurosceptic Mr Corbyn has happily ignored the party line when it suited him. Principles do not stand a chance, it seems, when you get a sniff at power.
But wait a minute.
The Labour Party has also decided to back Britain’s colossally expensive “independent” nuclear deterrent – “independent” in the sense that it can only function with the approval and technical collaboration of the United States.
Yet Mr Corbyn, following his election as leader of the party, made a big song and dance in the House of Commons vociferating, quite sensibly, his opposition to weaponry whose cost is way beyond the pockets of a small austerity-strapped island – weaponry, moreover, which, if used in war, can only lead to mutually assured destruction (abbreviation “MAD”) in the event of retaliation by a nuclear-armed opponent.
So , when it suits him, Mr Corbyn is quite happy to lead a party whose policy he opposes!
However, given his volte-face on EU membership, only a fool would bet on Corbyn sticking to his guns so far as the rejection of nuclear arms is concerned. Qui a bu boira! Having sold the pass to the apaches – the party’s reactionary Blairite faction – in the preeminently important case of EU membership, which has ramifications that embrace the political system as a whole, he can no longer be relied to do the right thing as regards the important but lesser single-issue question of nuclear aggression.
In the same speech, Mr Corbyn told an audience of Labour supporters: “You cannot build a better world unless you engage with the world, build allies and deliver change. The EU, warts and all, has proved itself to be a crucial international framework to do that. That is why I will be backing Britain to remain in Europe and I hope you will too.”
The implication of this tendentious assertion is that the pro-Brexit camp do not want to engage with the world. But nothing could be further from the truth. Brexiteers intend to engage enthusiastically with like-minded nations throughout the world once they are freed from the shackles of the EU. It is a travesty to suggest otherwise.
According to the BBC report on 14 April, Labour MP Kate Hoey, who is campaigning for an out vote, said that many Labour voters shared her view and would “see through” Mr Corbyn’s speech.
“We know first of all, that he doesn’t really mean it, no matter how much he tries to pretend he does, and secondly, that it is not in the interest of the Labour movement,” she told the BBC News channel.
According to a report of Corbyn’s speech in the Guardian the next day, 15 April 2016, he said:
“The Labour Party is overwhelmingly for staying in because we believe the EU has brought investment, jobs and protection for workers, consumers and the environment, and offers the best chance of meeting the challenges we face in the 21st century.
Comment: this is the speak-your-weight machine talking. The globalized free market economy at the heart of EU ideology has, on the contrary, destroyed jobs, casualised labour, weakened trade unions and opened the floodgates to zero-hours jobs (where workers must remain on permanent standby to take any work that is offered but have no guarantee that such work will materialise). As to investment, this will be encouraged just as much after Brexit as it is at present. Having regard to his past form as a committed socialist, it is hard not to believe that Corbyn is perfectly well aware of this – but chooses, for tricky-dicky political reasons, to say precisely the opposite. The word “sell-out” springs to mind.
“We need to make the case for reform in Europe – the reform David Cameron’s government has no interest in, but plenty of others [in] Europe do. That means democratic reform to make the EU more accountable…economic reform to end self-defeating austerity and put jobs and sustainable growth at the centre of European policy, labour market reform to strengthen and extend workers’ rights…and new rights for governments and elected authorities to support public enterprise and halt the pressure to privatise services.”
Yes, and Motherhood and Apple Pie as well!
All the goals that Corbyn wishes to achieve in his grand reform of the EU are diametrically at variance with the main thrust of EU economic policy and ideology. In the EU, it is a case of “the market rules, OK?” Some minor tinkering in a more socially liberal direction is possible – a few crumbs of comfort are thrown to dissenters to keep discontent manageable – but that is as far as it goes.
To think the contrary is to display breath-taking naivety about the balance of forces inside the European Union.
According to the Guardian report , Corbyn said he wanted to forge alliances with leftwing parties across Europe in order to reform it and promised that a Labour Government would cooperate with its socialist allies to halt the “race to the bottom”.
Who are these socialist allies Corbyn is going to cooperate with?
Anyone with the slightest inkling of the European political scene is perfectly well aware that there is not a single socialist party in Europe that is socialist. François Hollande in France? You must be joking. Matteo Renzi in Italy? Forget it. In Germany the picture is bleaker still. The German Social Democrats led by Sigmar Gabriel are actually in coalition with the rightwing Christian Democrats led by Angela Merkel. It is as if the Labour Party was in coalition with the Conservative Party in Britain. Martin Schulz, the President of the European Parliament, with whom Corbyn has been hobnobbing in Brussels, is a member of the German Social Democratic Party. And so it goes on.
It is more than ironic that Corbyn has outed himself as as Euroconformist precisely at a time when the anti-austerity programme that he is advocating has proved itself an out-and-out non-starter elsewhere in the European Union.
Has he not heard about the Greek tragedy?
In Greece a political party (Syriza) with an anti-austerity platform virtually identical to Corbyn’s won parliamentary elections in January 2015. Rebelling against the European Union as it stood, these naive optimists immediately set about negotiating with their (imaginary, it turned out) European allies to reform the Union in a manner that would benefit ordinary Greeks – and, moreover, set an example for similar improvements in the lot of European citizens throughout the Continent.
Their aspirations were in fact identical to those being voiced by Jeremy Corbyn in Britain today.
What happened to Syriza? Well, if Corbyn doesn’t know, he should get out more.
In the first place, contrary to expectation, it turned out that the Greeks did not have any allies at all in the EU. Not a single one among their 27 “partner” states.
Well, the European Union is a fundamentalist market-based organisation where mammoth free-wheeling corporations lord it every time over the needs of the Continent’s ordinary citizens. The other 27 EU member states, therefore, simply looked the other way when the Greeks came begging that the straitjacket of austerity be eased. And for good reason. In obedience to dictates from Brussels, the other EU governments – for example, those of Spain, Portugal and Ireland – have been hell-bent on sticking it to their own citizens with the truncheon of austerity.
Why should they want to give some slack to Greece?
In the second place, the small-fry Greeks of Syriza were unrealistically sanguine about the chances of “negotiating” on equal terms with the big boys of the European Union.
If Syriza had been a genuinely party of the far left, it would have leapt at the chance to throw down the gauntlet once and for all to the privateering European establishment and, in doing so, set an example for other similar parties the length and breadth of the continent. But no. They decided that they were going to remain with the EU and stay tied to the apron strings of the euro. Like Corbyn, they were going to negotiate “firmly but politely” with whoever would talk to them in the Eurocrat establishment…
Negotiations with the Eurocrats? They will smother you with open arms. These guys are past masters of negotiation. They could negotiate the hind legs off a donkey. It will be like wading through treacle. At best they will dance circles round you, at worst they will tear you to pieces. And so, alas, it came to pass. As members of a new party from a peripheral country with little experience of government, Syriza’s negotiators were like minnows in a pond of piranhas.
The Syriza government seemed to believe that it would be welcomed with open arms at the negotiating table. They had only to talk to the Eurocrats, demonstrate what good Europeans they were (by not wanting to leave the EU or abandon the euro). Lying through their teeth, they had only to explain that, like any orthodox EU state, they were enthusiastic supporters of market-based economic growth – and the Eurocrats would be bowled over with admiration and would give them whatever they wanted….
This was naïve in the extreme.
On 13 July 2015, Black Monday, the Greek government, elected on a similar anti-austerity platform to that advocated by Corbyn, was forced to its knees by the triad – the Brussel-based European Commission, the German-based European Central Bank and the Washington-based International Monetary Fund. Compelled to eat humble pie, the Greeks had to jettison the entire reform manifesto on the basis of which they had been elected and implement a massive privatization drive, cutting public sector jobs and salaries, decimating pensions and selling off a vast panoply of the country’s national assets to foreign capitalists. As the German finance minister, Wolfgang Schäuble, told the former Greek finance minister Yanis Varoufakis: “Elections cannot be allowed to change existing economic policy.”
The principle aim of the dominant rightwing current in today’s EU is to achieve a balance or surplus in the public accounts and to achieve this, where necessary, by slashing public spending, privatising state assets and “reforming” labour relations by outsourcing public services, cutting benefits, making it easier for employers to sack workers, reducing pensions and raising the pension age.
Syriza swept to power in Greece as a result of promises to the electorate that, in many respects, it would do the direct opposite: give free electricity to the poor, re-employ sacked workers, halt privatizations, and increase pensions and the minimum wage.
It is an indisputable fact that such humanitarian proposals are anathema to the penny-pinching capitalist politicians that are running the EU on behalf of international big business.
So why did Syriza expect the red carpet to be rolled out for it when its representatives rocked up in Brussels or other European capitals?”
And why today is Jeremy Corbyn setting out on the same road?
It is true that Britain is a big hitter, economically and politically, when compared to Greece, which at best accounts for only 2 per cent of EU output. However, the bigger they are, the harder they fall. None of the 28 EU states is strong enough to beard the massed ranks of the other 27 members. It is an unequal struggle which can have only one outcome.
That is why Corbyn’s new-found Europhilia is sad as well as being misguided.
The European Union is a centralized market-subservient economic organization with some add-on environmental and social policies. The latter are in any case are being rapidly watered down as the tightening corset of the EU removes the need to pay lip-service to non-market interests.
Witness the secret ongoing negotiations, backed by all 28 EU governments despite widespread popular opposition, to forge a free trade agreement – the notorious Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP)– between the EU and the USA – the USA being the instigator of the talks, the dominant partner and the likely chief beneficiary. The aim is to tip the balance away from democratic regulation of markets by sovereign governments and towards a giant intercontinental economy dominated not by small firms – the key business model in Greece and other EU Member States – but by giant global mega-corporations. Disputes between democratically elected governments and corporate behemoths will be decided by special supranational business courts biased towards the unregulated private market.
Rather than rush headlong towards the creation of a homogenized Europe-wide market dominated by global mega-corporations, global banks or hedge funds and the identikit chain stores of global retail giants, better the disintegration of the EU and the Eurozone – both fundamentally capitalist constructions – and their replacement by a loose grouping of fully sovereign nation states free to trade with one another as the whim takes them but with the power both to direct their own economies as they see fit and to take political decisions in the interest of their own citizens without fear of interference from a homogenizing Eurocratic elite holed up out of touch in its Belgian ivory tower.
A radical leftwing party could not fail to seize this historic opportunity to break free and reclaim full national sovereignty in an economy based on cooperation, deprivatization, the egalitarian distribution of wealth and income, patriotic industrial protectionism and participative democratic decision-making.
As to Jeremy Corbyn and his “allies”, whoever they may be, “renegotiating” the fundamentals of European policy, consider the position adopted by Syriza’s foreign affairs spokesperson, Rena Doulou, on the eve of the Greek elections in June 2012. In an interview with the French newspaper Le Monde around that time, she said she wanted the Greek people to become “a model of resistance to financial capitalism”. The party, she said, wanted to put the accent on a spirit of public and cooperative enterprise with a view to sustainable growth and the satisfaction of social needs. Syriza would reform public finance, provide incentives for small and medium-sized enterprises, and create jobs (particularly in hospitals and schools). As a result, “instead of being Europe’s guinea-pig,” Greek society would become a new model for the people of Europe – “a model which resists the logic of financial capitalism”.
Dream on, babe!
At that time, like Corbyn today, Syriza seemed blissfully unaware that every country that joins the European Union must agree to run a free-market economy (see Articles 101 to 105 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union). The market economy is the bedrock upon which the European Union rests. Even if transitional arrangements allowing temporary state intervention are permitted (see Articles 106 to 109 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union), in the long term the state (representing the people) must hand over the running of its economy to private businesses. That is why, throughout Europe today, successful state-run railways, postal services and utilities are currently being surrendered, often at bargain-basement prices, to private firms.
It seems as if Corbyn is blissfully unaware of the black hole into which the hopes of the Greek people have sunk without trace.
If so, he should get out more. Preferably beyond the cramped precincts of his Islington constituency.
Unfortunately, one cannot rule out the hypothesis that this erstwhile firebrand just doesn’t want to know – his judgement shot to pieces perhaps as a result of the bombardment of shameless flattery now raining down on him from erstwhile enemies both in the media and on the reactionary pro-EU wing of the Labour Party.
Milton! Thou shouldst be living at this hour:
England hath need of thee: she is a fen
Of stagnant waters: altar, sword, and pen,
Fireside, the heroic wealth of hall and bower,
Have forfeited their ancient English dower
Of inward happiness……
O raise us up, return to us again,
And give us manners, virtue, freedom, power!
We conclude with this invocation to John Milton (1608-1674), author of the poems “Paradise Lost” and “Paradise Regained”, by the English poet William Wordsworth (1770-1850).
CHANNEL STORMS – CONTINENT ISOLATED
The feedback to this diatribe, which has been revised many times since its original publication on 23 April 2016, has been exasperating.
Experts with knowledge and experience in a particular field must often tear their hair out when they hear comment from the great unwashed. We recognize the feeling. Antigone1984 has insider knowledge of the European Union gained over two decades. We also are intimately aware of the machinations and culture wars that rage behind the benign public image that the EU takes care to project. In particular, we know that the guys in charge – no matter what their political affiliation – will stop at nothing to achieve their ideological objectives. The most important of these is to establish market rule throughout the continent and confine any relics of socialism to a footnote in the history books. In a natural progression, Ayn Rand (1905-1982) has replaced Jean Monnet (1888-1979) in the European pantheon.
Given our experience, therefore, of the inner workings of the European Union, it is disheartening to encounter some of the reaction to the arguments for Brexit. Much of it, it seems to us, is based on sheer ignorance. There is also the boredom factor. We get the impression that much of the UK population, including educated people, know very little about Europe and care even less. Britain’s geographical and historical detachment from the mainland is still a factor today. “Channel Storms – Continent Isolated” ran a headline in the London Times in the 1930s. The UK media still bear some of the blame for the UK’s insularity. We would hazard a guess that the French newspaper Le Monde publishes twice as many detailed articles on the EU as its UK counterpart, the Guardian.
Here are some of the reactions we have had since we published the first version of this essay on St George’s Day last month. One reader said they didn’t have time to wade through the arguments but disagreed with them any way. Another comment was that the reader didn’t think that the issue was as momentous as Antigone1984 and the commentariat seemed to think. Along similar lines, another reader, who had not read anything of our text, maintained that that the EU was “just a single issue” instead of being (as we see it) an over-arching leviathan with ramifications throughout the body politic. One commentator said they intended to vote against Brexit on the grounds that the EU didn’t cost much and brought some benefits. The same is true of marijuana. Few deny that there may be some benefits in belonging to the EU. The point , surely, is whether the benefits outweigh the disadvantages. Logically, there is no point in paying even a small fee to a club if the downside trumps the upside. The latter reader then produced his clincher: “I don’t want to be associated with the xenophobes, little Englanders, racists and dog whistlers who are speaking for Brexit and attending the campaign meetings”. So the arguments are not important then? What matters apparently is the company you keep. This last comment appears to us to carry an unwarranted and invidious subtext, namely the oft-peddled sophism that nationalism = populism = xenophobia = racism. The subconscious slander, widely espoused among orthodox liberals, is that those who favour Brexit, or at least most of them, are racists. We do not believe that this is so. In any case, while condemning racism without reservation, we find it hard to believe that it is the key factor to be taken into account when considering the case for or against membership of the European Union. As we have argued ad infinitum in the essay above, the key factors are the economic system (either competition/capitalism or cooperation/socialism), sovereignty, the acceptance of national diversity, and efficient political decision-making.
The “Little England” riff is played regularly by critics of Brexit.
Rejecting Brexit on the grounds that it will lead to a “Little England”, another reader warns: “Little England! For whom Tennyson and Milton are cited for inspiration. And it will be little England. If there is one Brexit, probably sooner rather than later there will be two. The Scots will surely leave. Imagine England with a long-term, perhaps permanent Tory majority!”
One has to chuckle. This reader, for whom the prospect of a truncated Britain is presumably the stuff of nightmares, focuses his entire approach to Brexit not on the broader international benefits or disadvantages of EU membership in a European and global context but on the supposed effects of Brexit on the narrow self-interests of that part of the United Kingdom referred to as England. Sounds like a jingoistic “Little England” argument to us! Note, in the same vein, that this reader is quite happy to keep the Scots under the boot of the English rather than allow them the opportunity to reclaim the independence they lost in 1707. This is because, the Scots gone, the reader fears “a long-term, perhaps permanent, Tory majority” in England. So the whole question of EU membership is to be decided on the basis of the vagaries of internal party-politicking in England. This does not sound like an internationalist approach to us. Nor are the reader’s premises above contestation. It is by no means certain that, whatever they say now, the Scots would automatically plump for independence in the event of Brexit. Nor it is by any means certain that, if the Scots were in fact to break out of Britain, the result would be the installation of “a long-term, perhaps permanent, Tory majority” in the English rump. For one thing, the Tory Party is currently tearing itself apart in a civil war between Brexit and Remain supporters. Whatever the result of the referendum, there is a good chance that the party will remain weakened for some time to come.
All that said, readers fearful of the “Little England” bogey have big guns at their elbow.
For instance, a giant of the global left, Noam Chomsky, an American academic based at MIT, appears to endorse them. The following is part of an interview between Leo Benedictus and Noam Chomsky published by the BBC on 20 March 2016:
“Chomsky:….Democracy in Europe is collapsing. Decisions are made in Brussels, not by national parliaments, and people know that.
Benedictus: Does this mean you’d favour a British exit?
Ch0msky: Not really. I’m unenthusiastic about either, but I think probably the worse choice would be Brexit. My sense is that it would probably turn Britain – or maybe England, if Scotland pulls out – into even more of a dependency on the US. And there are a lot of good things that have happened in Europe since the second world war. Those should be salvaged, and I think they can be.”
With due respect to Mr Chomsky, Antigone1984 thinks it wrong to imply that the “good things” that have happened in Europe since the second world war can automatically be attributed to the existence of the European Union and that therefore Britain should “probably” remain a Member State. Besides, the second world war ended a long time ago and in recent decades, with the EU in the engine room, the continent has powered steadily to the right. International supporters, lukewarm or otherwise, of the EU often seem to take the view that, so far as Europe is concerned, the choice is between the European Union, whatever its faults, and rabid racist nationalism. To think this is to swallow hook, line and sinker the well-funded propaganda being pumped out day in day out by advocates of the status quo. In fact, nothing could be further from the truth. The EU is not the only pebble on the conceptual beach. As “Europeans against the European Union” have consistently argued, other configurations of the comity of European states are perfectly feasible, including a socialist one. However, this fact is largely unknown and rarely mentioned. And for good reason. The ruthless censorship of alternative opinion that is a hallmark of the People’s Republic of China under the iron fist of President Xi Jinping is as nothing compared to the inexorable and relentless suppression of all reference to alternative Europes in the lickspittle media of the European Union. It’s the EU – or chaos and catastrophe. That is the unwavering message that is pumped out day and night by the propaganda machines of the “free” press.
Rising above hidebound anglo-centric navel-gazing and with our own intimate awareness of the workings of the EU from the inside, Antigone1984 sees Brexit as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to kickstart a process whose ultimate goal is to defang the EU dragon throughout the continent and thereby remove the straitjacket that is stifling the spirit, sapping the energy and still-birthing the democratic and economic renaissance of the captive nations of Europe.
Nonetheless, random conversations with educated middle-of-the-road middle-class UK voters having liberal/centrist or mildly radical leanings confirm the impression, for what it is worth, that the critics of Brexit we have just cited are fairly typical of their class: when the chips are down and the fat hits the pan, wringing their hands and squirming with indecisiveness, they will first hem and haw and then do what they usually do in the end, that is to say, troop into the voting booths with an unequivocal thumbs-up for the status quo.
More generally, as in any election, in the UK’s EU referendum on 23 June 2016, many of those who bother to vote at all are likely to decide on the basis not of the quality of the arguments for and against Brexit but on the basis of their gut feelings – and which side of the bed they got out of that morning.
And, at the end of the day, those of us who are democrats have to accept that. This is democracy, warts and all, after all, not a test paper in an examination. In contrast to the views of Plato (447-327 BC), who advocated a political constitution supervised by an educated elite, democracy gives all citizens the right to vote, regardless of their level of education or their knowledge of the issue at stake.
The outcome is in the lap of the gods. So be it.
You might perhaps care to view some of our earlier posts. For instance:
- Why? or How? That is the question (3 Jan 2012)
- Partitocracy v. Democracy (20 July 2012)
- The shoddiest possible goods at the highest possible prices (2 Feb 2012)
- Capitalism in practice (4 July 2012)
- Ladder (21 June 2012)
- A tale of two cities (1) (6 June 2012)
- A tale of two cities (2) (7 June 2012)
- Where’s the beef? Ontology and tinned meat (31 Jan 2012)
Every so often we shall change this sample of previously published posts.